Reading while writing is important. After all, it is a way for us authors to learn and stay inspired.
Reading while writing is also a very dangerous thing to do.
Various things from the novels we read float around in our brain and lurk in our subconscious. They can come to the surface while writing. And that means that you have to be on the lookout while writing to make sure you don’t accidentally copy something.
A prime example of these dangers is a short story I wrote. Looking back, the story was doomed to have it’s fate from the start.
First off, I shameless stole the lines, “I heard the shots. I heard the screams. But it’s the silence after I remember most,” from the musical Anastasia and used them as the first lines in my short story because of how amazing they are. So, my story prompt came with it’s own story tied to it. That meant that it was going to leave a mark of some sort on my story.
Second, I was reading All Fall Down by Ally Carter at the time I wrote this story. The main character in the story suffers a lot with her past and being haunted by it.
The result of all of these factors was a story about a man in a country very similar to Russia after the Russian revolution who was haunted by his past. Because of where I got the story prompt from, the main character resembled Gleb, the character in the musical who said the line, except he was not happy with his position in the government, mostly due to his haunted past. In short, the influences of what I was reading and where I stole my prompt from were very clearly seen.
Now, I still like the short story. And with a bunch of careful editing, I could fix it to not have a very strong resemblance to other stories. But I now know to be aware of what I am reading and where I get my prompts.
Another warning about reading while writing has to do with worldbuilding. Be careful not to accidentally copy something from another story. I already knew about this danger, and so when I was worldbuilding for my novel, Façade, I took the necessary precautions. Because Façade is set in the future, I knew I needed to come up with lots of cool technology for it. But I didn’t want to copy anything. So I stayed away from books set in the future. I actually had an idea pop into my head while brainstorming and then realized that it was something from a book I had read and discarded the idea.
This last warning is the trickiest warning. Be aware of yourself. Mainly, your subconscious. Your subconscious can pull things from books that you haven’t even read for a long time. For a case study on this matter, we will take a look at yet another short story of mine.
When I write short stories, I don’t plot them out, but I generally have an idea of the end and what is going to happen. I did not when I wrote the short story in question. It was one of the first short stories I’ve written.
I had a prompt (without ideas attached) and wrote a story off of that. However, the story morphed a lot as it went along. This lead to a few small plot holes, but nothing too major. They would be minor things to fix. But that was not the problem my subconscious caused. No, that problem was the entire plot itself.
When I finished the story and read it, I wanted to laugh when I finished it. I had written essentially a knock-off of one of my favorite books, The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen. My subconscious had influenced the story to become very similar to a story I like. So, lesson learned: don’t accidentally copy a story. Beware.
Now, I am sure that there are plenty of other dangers of writing waiting for me. But for now, these are some dangers to keep on your radar.
Tell me friends, have you ever accidentally copied something in your writing?